When you think of October, odds are you think about hayrides, warm cider, and pumpkin pie. October’s special connection to the harvest is perhaps why it was chosen to be National Farm to School Month. Although the first frost of the year has already fallen, schools in northwestern lower Michigan are far from ready to stop celebrating local harvests. Read on to learn about how Alanson, Boyne Falls, East Jordan, Harbor Springs, Petoskey, and Pellston Public Schools are observing National Farm to School Month.
Apples are recognized as October’s Harvest of the Month, so it is no coincidence that many schools across our region are celebrating National Farm to School Month with a smorgasbord of fresh, local apples. Alanson, East Jordan, Petoskey, and Pellston Public Schools participated in the 2019 Great Lakes Apple Crunch Day by munching down on mcintoshes, galas, jonathans, ginger golds, and zestars. Petoskey alone handed out 3,100 apples! Pellston and Alanson Food Service Director, Sherry Sedore, shares her reason for bringing Apple Crunch Day to her schools: “Apple Crunch Day is an excellent way to introduce different kinds of apples to students in a fun way. Students will take an apple and try it if they know it has been grown in an orchard not far from where they go to school. It supports local orchards and helps the local economy.”
Other schools, like Boyne Falls Public School, celebrate local apples every day of the month. Boyne Falls gets a steady supply from Dionne Farms just down the road. The apples also make an appearance during classroom lessons. Kindergarteners and first graders learn how to mindfully taste to notice differences in taste and texture by sampling different varieties. Dionne Farms also made an appearance at East Jordan by bringing four apple varieties to the school for students to taste and compare. Apples will also be featured in cafeteria taste tests at Boyne Falls, Harbor Springs, Petoskey, and Pellston Public Schools. Petoskey students will try crisp apple chips, while Boyne Falls, Harbor Springs, and Pellston students will enjoy a smooth, sugar-free applesauce.
With so many apple-related activities, it might seem as though apples are the only stars of National Farm to School Month. That is not so! Several schools regularly source a diverse mix of vegetables and fruits from local farms throughout the year. Collectively, Alanson, Boyne Falls, East Jordan, Harbor Springs, Pellston, and Petoskey Public Schools source food from the following local farms: Bear Creek Organic Farm, Bliss Gardens Farm and Community Kitchen, Bluestem Farm, Coveyou Scenic Farm Market, Dionne Farms, Duerksen Turkey Farm, Friske’s Orchard, Golden River Orchard, Northbound Farm, Providence Organic Farm & Natural Food Market, Spirit of Walloon Market Garden, and Ziibimijwang Farm. That is twelve local farms! The schools also source food from Cherry Capital Foods, a supplier of Michigan produce. East Jordan Public School Food Service Director, Melissa Lyons, writes “We can guarantee there is a Michigan-grown item at every step along the breakfast and lunch line.”
Posters featuring these farms’ logos have been displayed in cafeterias so students can see exactly where some of their fruits and vegetables come from. Some logos students recognize instantly, and students are only too happy to point these logos out and tell anyone who is standing close enough to listen about how they drive by that farm every day.
Sourcing local food throughout the year, not just during National Farm to School Month, is one of the several ways that schools in our region celebrate farm to school. Petoskey plans to continue strengthening its year-round farm-to-school program by forming a Farm to School Coordinating Team. This team is part of the USDA Farm to School Planning Grant that the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities received. The team is planning a kick-off meeting to lay the groundwork for farm-to-school initiatives going forward this year. It will be exciting to see what they dream up!
Pellston Public School also plans on celebrating its second annual Bring a Farmer to School Day later this month. Mary Rapin of Bliss Gardens Farm and Community Kitchen, and friends of the farm, Theresa Raikko and Pat Dobson, will bring fresh vegetables in for students to see and taste during lunch. East Jordan is one of several schools that will bring their students into the garden this month to experience what farmers do every day by harvesting and cleaning vegetables.
But why is there such a buzz around National Farm to School Month? The impact of farm to school is much greater than a local carrot in a kindergartener’s hand. Farm to school programs also benefit local farmers, creating a steady buyer and source of income for farmers and their families. According to the National Farm to School Network, “Farm to school is a triple win for kids, farmers, and communities. Farm to school provides all kids access to nutritious, high-quality, local food so they are ready to learn and grow. Farm to school can serve as a significant financial opportunity for farmers [and] farm to school benefits everyone from students, teachers and administrators to parents and farmers, providing opportunities to build family and community engagement.”
So whether you are a student, school employee, or community member, remember to thank a farmer during National Farm to School Month for supplying tasty, healthy food to our region. If you’re a farmer, please take a moment to thank yourself for all you do too!